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Roberts, Moran reintroduce bill to allow state to inspect natural-gas storage fields

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, April 20, 2013, at 11:04 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, July 27, 2013, at 10:39 a.m.

Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have reintroduced federal legislation attempting to give Kansas some safety oversight of mammoth natural-gas storage fields in the state.

The two Republican senators from Kansas filed a nearly identical bill in late 2011, but were unable to gain traction for it in the divided Congress.

The bill would allow the Kansas Corporation Commission to restart a program of inspecting 11 natural-gas storage fields that dot the state and have the capacity to store more than 270 billion cubic feet of gas.

The state Legislature mandated inspections after a 2001 incident where gas migrated from an underground storage cavern, popped to the surface through abandoned salt-water wells in Hutchinson and exploded. Blasts over a two-day period destroyed a block of downtown businesses and killed a couple in their mobile home on the east side of town.

But the remaining gas fields in Kansas have gone uninspected since 2009, when Colorado Interstate Gas — a subsidiary of the El Paso Corp. pipeline company — successfully sued to stop inspections. The company argued its gas was in interstate transit and thus a federal responsibility.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Division has opted not to regulate or inspect underground gas storage.

Roberts and Moran moved to restore the state’s authority to inspect gas fields after learning of the situation in a 2011 Eagle story.

“This legislation fills a void by allowing states to step in when the federal government fails to monitor natural gas storage sites,” Moran said in a joint statement with Roberts this week. “Our country’s citizens should be protected from the threat of explosions, and this common-sense approach puts safety first.”

Added Roberts: “It’s been over 10 years since we lost two lives to a gas explosion in Hutchison, and the federal government is still nowhere to be found. Inaction opens the door for a real tragedy, so we must act and put our faith in the people on the ground to protect their families, friends and neighbors.”

Roberts aide Sarah Little said the bill will be referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. She said the senators will also be watching for the opportunity to offer the bill as an amendment to other energy legislation moving through Congress.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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